E&T news weekly #51 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

May 22, 2015

Friday May 22 2015

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Human attention span lags behind that of goldfish

Are you reading this, humans? Are you? Hello? Are you paying attention to me? I guessed not. If only the goldfish could read… Our attention span has decreased by four seconds in the last 15 years to only eight seconds, meaning a goldfish beats us by managing nine seconds. We have three types of human attention which are sustained, selective and alternating. And we are failing at all of them. This is because of modern technology. By adapting to it, our focus is dwindling. At least there’s a bright side…our ability to multitask has improved. But the goldfish still kicks our butts.

Google cars win permit to drive on public roads

Driverless cars, invented by Google, will be able to drive in California on public roads. They drive pretty slow, only 40km/h, but have been involved in 11 accidents over the years. It’s like an old blind man driving the car. I think it’s a bit lazy in my opinion to get a car to drive for you. But then again, if it reduces road traffic accidents like it said it would, it’s a pretty good idea. I wonder if they will develop minds of their own, as they are self-learning, and start racing each other like lunatics. What a drive that would be! Pass me the sick bag.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Watching 3D films ‘response to slow brain decline’

The idea that watching films in three rather than two dimensions gives your brain a workout sounds like it should come from the marketing arm of a cinema chain looking to justify higher prices for 3D screenings. It actually comes from neuroscientists who got test subjects to carry out cognitive tests before and after watching the same movie in different formats. They reckon they found 3D was associated with responses that were more than 20 per cent better. So next time you turn up and find they’re not showing the film you want to see in boring old 2D and have to shell out for an extra dimension, just think of it as an investment in brain power.

Cyber-security to be part of GCSEs

A bit surprising that the idea of cybersecurity being added to the GCSE computer science syllabus is a novel thing. I’d have hoped that all teenagers would have some element of the importance of online security in their education, even if they don’t opt for a formal qualification. The aim is to address the growing demand for digital skills, but everybody’s going to need those whatever job they’re working in, and criminals don’t respect what you did at school.

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Ship management firm trials GPS back-up system

London-based EuroShip Services is equipping its fleet with eLoran technology based on long-wave radio signals as a backup positioning system for when GPS is unavailable. The UK is the first country in the world to have rolled out the technology for use by commercial cargo and passenger vessels, after installing eLoran stations at the country’s busiest ports last year.

Lights beam ads to phones in supermarkets

This is location technology on a rather different scale from the eLoran system described above. Philips Lighting has teamed up with French supermarket chain Carrefour to beam signals from the LED lights to customers’ smartphones, delivering ‘contextual adverts’ and discount coupons based on which section or aisle they are walking through. Clever – but a bit spooky, all the same.

Aasha Bodhani  Aasha Bodhani, industry features editor
Cyber-security to be part of GCSEs

The ICT curriculum is continuing with its shake-up and is now introducing modules covering cyber-security issues, such as malware, firewalls and the legal side to computer technology. With advancements in technology facing cyber threats, the OCR examination board say students must have these skills to help with the growing demand of digital skills.

Spotify is turning Starbucks baristas into DJs in new deal

Starbucks is transforming its customers into DJs! Teaming up with Spotify, customers in the US who have a premium account with the music streaming company can suggest songs for the Starbucks playlist. In return, customers will earn stars for currency which will go towards the Starbucks’ loyalty program. A win-win all round.

Self-driving truck heads out across America – an annotated infographic

May 21, 2015

Look, no hands! The first self-driving truck to be licensed for highway use has hit the roads in the USA. Autonomous vehicles are meant to improve safety and efficiency and cut congestion. There’s still a driver in the cab, just in case.

Daimler’s Freightliner Inspiration autonomous truck is licensed to drive on public roads in the U.S. State of Nevada. Its Highway Pilot links camera and radar systems with lane stability, collision avoidance, braking, speed control and steering.

E&T magazine has a photo gallery of the Freightliner Inspiration in the latest Jurassic World issue.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Get the truck outta here

Get the truck outta here

New issue of E&T magazine now online – the #JurassicWorld issue

May 20, 2015

The new issue of E&T magazine is now available online: the Jurassic World issue.

Inspired by the science of the movies – the Jurassic Park franchise, X-Men, Terminator and Fantastic Voyage – we check out bio-tech dinosaurs injecting medical nanobots; computer-brain interfaces; swarms of miniature robots that can cooperate; sci-fi inspired Raspberry Pi projects; spy gadgets and much more.

Refreshments are available in the lobby.

E&T magazine: boo!

E&T magazine: boo!

BTPT: Bizarre theories and pointless technologies. #Air conditioned #shoes, exhaust #grill and caffeinated #apples

May 19, 2015

By Rebecca Northfield

Summer is on its way, and that means the sun will have its hat on, more or less. Here are a couple of technologies that have been inspired by great things designed to make the summer heat easier, and more enjoyable.

Happy happy sunshine.

When I say inspired, I mean thinking of the stupidest thing you can do with the technology available to you.

Air conditioned shoes

The Hydro-Tech Cool Breeze shoes from the Far East are designed to keep your feet cool whilst you’re at work on a hot day. Because everybody worries how hot their feet are at work. As long as they don’t whiff, I don’t see how it could be a problem. You rarely hear anyone say: “My feet are unbearably hot! It’s so uncomfortable. I can’t work like this.”

11 Nov 2006, Berkeley, California, USA --- Jogger Splashing Through Mud While Trail Running --- Image by © Corey Rich/Aurora Photos/Corbis

Because cool feet are important.

The shoe system works by a patented filter technology, which extracts the hot air your tootsies create and fills your shoes with smell-free fresh air, using a micro-fan system. This ensures your feet are constantly conditioned, regardless of the length of time your shoes are on. Breezy.

However, what if it rained? English summers are notorious for changing at the flick of a switch. Are your feet going to get wet if the weather decides to not play nice? That would be the worst on a humid summer day. Warm, wet feet.

If this product reaches us, it’ll be another thing to complain about. The sweltering heat, the sun shining in your eyes, how hot your feet are without your cooling shoes.

Give me strength.

You can get a pair here, if you can read Japanese. Enjoy!


Exhaust grills that cooks burgers with smoke heat

The Exhaust Burger was a concept back in 2008, and has resurfaced on the internet recently. For no good reason.

pork steak

The right sort of grill.

Why would you ever trust a mechanism that is in very close proximity to carbon monoxide fumes and general nastiness from your car exhaust?

A team in Iran designed the Exhaust Burger for a competition, and described it as a way to ‘prove how concerned you are about the environment.’

If this ever becomes a consumer product, I will give up on the human race.


Caffeinated apple

Have you ever been at work and are so tired you don’t know which way is up? Why not grab an apple? No, not your ordinary apple. A caffeinated apple? It will certainly boost your day, that’s for sure.

Start-up biotechnology company Taxa thinks that British supermarkets will be stocking caffeinated apples in the near future.

Bursting with caffeine goodness.

Bursting with caffeine goodness.

Does anyone have any ideas on what the thing will taste like? I know caffeine doesn’t really have a flavour, but wouldn’t it be weird to get your coffee alternative from an uber GM fruit?

I wouldn’t say this up and coming technology is pointless, but it is rather bizarre.

What would the names be? The Buzzing Gala? The Energetic Granny?

What if you got addicted to these apples? What if you got so addicted that you’d eat every part of the super fruit, including the poisonous pips? Mind you, you’d have to eat about sixty apples with seeds included to get the lethal dosage of cyanide, but what if you did? You would die, that’s what!

To be honest, I am warming up to the idea of a new, healthier way to get my caffeine fix. I am not a hot beverage kind of gal, so my only option for a pick-me-up is energy drinks, which is no help to anyone. Consuming the sugar and chemicals and the downright disgusting ingredients (bull semen) on a regular basis would not do me any good at all.

I think this bizarre innovation will do pretty well, if all goes according to plan.

Bring on the Buzzing Granny.

E&T news weekly #50 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

May 15, 2015

Friday May 15 2015

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Dangerous drone flyers should face jail, survey suggests

Lock ’em all up! Yes, the British public has spoken and according to a survey by the British Airline Pilots’ Association, cavalier operators of drones who play fast and loose with the concept of airspace safety, putting passenger jets at risk, should be jailed. Fair enough, really. Given how cheaply drones can be picked up and the big-boys toys fun to be had with flying one, if you’re that way inclined, making a nuisance of yourself with your snazzy new radio-controlled UFO, the appeal of buzzing people, places and planes is always going to be too strong for some to resist. Not to mention those operators with more sinister intent. As quickly as drones have risen in the public consciousness, there is going to have to be an equally rapid suppression in terms of legislation designed to inhibit their unrestricted use.

Nasa’s sci-fi concepts to change future of space exploration

For Nasa, considering anything as pedestrian as a drone is so last year. The space agency is instead looking to the realms of the fantastical in its quest to boldly go where no man has gone before. Curtains that revitalise the air inside spaceships or an eel-like robot that harvests energy from surrounding magnetic fields as it explores other planets are just two of the 15 out-of-this-world proposals selected for its Innovative Advanced Concepts programme. Each of the concepts will receive $100,000 for a phase 1 study.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Google admits it had 11 self-driving car accidents

Everyone considers themselves a pretty safe driver – it’s always the other idiots on the road who are the cause of all the accidents. I feel pretty justified in taking this stance because in a couple of decades on the road the only mishap I’ve been involved in was when a lorry went into the back of me while I was stationary at traffic lights. Google’s claiming to have achieved a similar level of safety for its driverless vehicles, saying that the incidents they’ve been involved in during a million miles of test journeys were all the fault of human road users. The question remains though – if you find you’ve rear-ended a car with no driver, who do you get out and discuss insurance details with?

Robotic pets set to replace real furry friends in the future

I don’t dislike animals, it’s just that given the choice I wouldn’t give free board and lodging to the various creatures the rest of my family feel the need to have around. So the idea of robot pets that don’t need feeding or cleaning up after sounds like a good compromise. Until I realise that instead of trips to the vet there would be inevitable journeys to expensive dealerships for routine maintenance and repairs, with an added level of emotional blackmail that just doesn’t exist with your car.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Octopus-inspired robot arm to revolutionise keyhole surgery

Inspiration from nature takes the spotlight again. A soft robotic arm that simulates the tentacles of an octopus could be a new lead in improving the safety of surgery. Invented by Italian scientists, it can flex, twist and stretch to adapt to the patient’s insides just like an octopus would if it was rummaging around in there. This means that doctors could safely navigate through body bits without damaging the patient so much that it requires intervention. It also has the bonus factor of changing its condition, from soft to stiff, meaning that things like tumours can be removed with more ease. For example, one ‘tentacle’ can move organs away from the area, whilst another ‘tentacle’ can perform the surgery, switching to rigid mode. They used water balloons instead of organs to test it. Best. Operation. Ever.

Artificial pancreas at risk of being hacked

US researchers have realised there is a pretty big problem with artificial pancreases controlled by mobile phone devices. Seeing as there’s a thing called hacking, and you can hack onto mobile phones, you can hack onto someone’s pancreas and mess them about. It could put patients’ lives at risk, according to the Cybersecurity in Artificial Pancreas Experiments study warned. Like the name didn’t give it away. It would be weird if someone pretty much controlled your body. Like a robot. Let another freak out about the vulnerability of the human race begin!

Laura Onita  Laura Onita, online news reporter
US House votes to end NSA bulk collection of phone data

The end to NSA’s bulk data collection of American’s phone records may be in sight after the US House of Representatives has overwhelmingly voted against it with 338-to-88 this week, but don’t hold your breath. The House bill must pass the Senate, where its fate is much less certain and many key lawmakers seem to oppose it. Also, a similar bill died in the Senate in November last year after an up-or-down vote on it was blocked with a filibuster.

Google admits it had 11 self-driving car accidents

I’m sorry, but 11 accidents in six years over 2.8 million kilometres travelled is not that bad, and dare I say good news for driverless cars? Yes, the details of the collisions haven’t been made public, but we would’ve known if something sordid had happened. Google said its cars were never the cause of an accident and the ones they were indeed involved in were minor with “light damage, no injuries”. I’d much rather know how driverless cars behave on the road than just guess, so if takes a few scratches and bumps so be it.

Alex Kalinaukas  Alex Kalinauckas, assistant features editor
US House votes to end NSA bulk collection of phone data

A victory for privacy at last as the US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to back the USA Freedom Act to stop the bulk collection of phone and internet data. Hopefully the bill won’t be torpedoed when it reaches the Senate, later this year…

Robotic pets set to replace real furry friends in the future

No, sorry, this is not going to happen. Robots will never replace real pets – you just have to look at the outrage and campaigning on behalf of any species on the verge of extinction to realise people won’t let animals die just to replace them with robots – they also really love their furry companions. Rather than funding such a pointless endeavour, surely that finance could be better used organising a system where the seemingly endless amount of food thrown away by developed nations is redistributed to countries where it’s desperately needed? A silly idea, I know…

Aasha Bodhani  Aasha Bodhani, industry features editor
Robotic pets set to replace real furry friends in the future

Could robotic pets soon replace real animals for human companionship? According to Jean-Loup Rault, the answer is yes. As the world becomes overpopulated, this could be the case for the next generation, but Rault also explains this is happening now. Since the birth of the Tamagotchi in Japan, people are attached to their robot dogs and even hold funerals for them when the circuits die.

Artificial pancreas at risk of being hacked

The Internet of Things era we now live in means cyber threats are increasing, especially in the healthcare sector. A study has warned that modernised health devices are prone to targeted attacks, which in return puts patients’ lives at risk. The study also reveals how artificial pancreas systems are subject to threats due to software and malware vulnerabilities.

Katia Moskvitch  Katia Moskvitch, technology editor
World’s first 3D printed photosynthetic wearable revealed

First we printed in 2D and only on paper; then we started 3D printing various parts and tools, and now there are even attempts to print human organs. Well, designer Neri Oxman, who works at the MIT Media Lab, decided to combine 3D printing, live microorganisms and art – and created the first-ever 3D-printed photosynthetic wearable artwork housing live bacteria, inspired by the human digestive system. This “wearable microbial factory” looks like human innards – and it glows. It has been designed to house live microorganisms like E.Coli and cyanobacteria, capable of converting sunlight to energy. Exposed to light, the cyanobacteria create sugar via photosynthesis, which E.coli then consume to produce flashing proteins, hence the glow. Dubbed Mushtari, the piece certainly draws one’s attention, although I can’t think of anybody who would wear it for real. But then, Lady Gaga did wear a steak gown and Bjork had her swan dress designed with real swan feathers, so why not?

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
World’s first 3D printed photosynthetic wearable revealed

Next Turner Prize seems to be guaranteed for this “photosynthetic” work of conceptual art. Move over, Damien Hirst, whose pickled cow starts looking bleak and shallow in comparison to this brazenly intestinal “wearable”. My only question is: which part of the body is one supposed to wear it on? On one’s tummy, most probably – exposed and visible to everyone… I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to find myself next to a wearer of this “wearable” in a restaurant or in a pub.

Artificial pancreas at risk of being hacked

When I had two metallic stents installed in my long-suffering smoke-saturated arteries seven years ago (just to keep them open, you know), my main worry was that I would now start beeping every time I go through security controls at an airport. That, however, has not happened: the amount of metal inside my bod is probably insufficient to activate an alarm… Now I have another worry: what if my both stents, or even just one of them, get hacked by my enemies (and I have plenty remaining from my turbulent Soviet past) trying to gain control of my heart? Or maybe they have done it already without my knowledge? I think I am beginning to understand can why I am not longer moved almost to tears by a sight of a puppy or of (someone else’s) baby on a commuter train, or not in hurry to vacant my seat for an invalid. The hackers must have turned me into a cold-hearted – uncaring and indifferent – person!

Hydrogen-powered seaplanes FTW – an annotated infographic

May 12, 2015

At the tail end of another engineering and technology day, what better way to unwind than marvelling at the futuristic seaplane concept from a British team of researchers, which they believe could help relieve the pressure on major airports around the world?

A concept design of an advanced hydrogen-powered seaplane, it’s certainly one answer to the nagging question of whether to build a new runway at Gatwick or Heathrow or even at all. If planes can land in the sea, we can all start our holidays from the ocean.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Seaplanes: splashy

Seaplanes: splashy

Airbus A400M military cargo planes grounded after test flight crash – an annotated infographic

May 11, 2015

As E&T news reported this morning, fleets of Airbus’ new military cargo plane A400M have been grounded after an aircraft crashed during a test flight in Spain, killing four people aboard.

The plane, a four-engine turboprop, was performing its maiden flight before a planned delivery to Turkey.

According to French newspaper El Pais, the aircraft crashed into a pylon about 1.6km from the San Pablo airport in Seville while attempting an emergency landing.

Airbus has sent a team of investigators to the crash site, but refused to speculate on the causes of the disaster. Spanish investigators have said they have recovered the two flight recorders.

Britain’s Royal Air Force and Germany’s Luftwaffe have both said they would halt operations of the plane until the reasons for the crash become clear. Other NATO countries have also followed this lead.

Read the full story about the Airbus A400M crash.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Airbus A400M grounded

Airbus A400M grounded

E&T news weekly #49 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

May 8, 2015

Friday May 8 2015

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
QWERTY soft keyboard miniaturised for wearable devices

Having just moved from an ageing BlackBerry handset to a smartphone with touchscreen, the single thing I miss is the BB’s chunky keypad and the ability to hammer out emails at a decent pace using both thumbs. In fact I’m getting used to being a lot more brief in my communications on the move. Reassuring news then that when I bow to the inevitable and embrace the brave new world of wearable technology there will be decent keyboards usable even on devices a couple of centimetres across. I’ll reserve judgement on how easy it is to type on something that’s about the same size as my actual finger until I’ve had a go on one though.

Drone-detecting air-traffic radar successful in trials

Every week seems to bring a new thing for nervous fliers to worry about, so it’s good to balance that with a solution to one issue that’s of increasing concern to aviation authorities. With so many people mucking around with aerial drones that are now affordable to the general public, distracting pilots is a real danger. Step up UK company Aveillant, whose holographic radar can spot unmanned pests when they’re several kilometres away, something conventional air-traffic systems can’t do. So as you descend towards your destination you can sit a little easier in your seat – until the next airborne hazard appears on the horizon.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Spiders sprayed with graphene weave superwebs

Super spiders! Like Spider-Man, but much cooler. And factual. Using fifteen of the little critters, researchers from the University of Trente, Italy, sprayed them with a water and graphene particles solution. It turns out that a few of them had the ability to weave webs of unprecedented mechanical properties. So they’re like little superheroes. The best spiders created fibres much stronger than the best unaltered silk made by another arachnid, the giant riverine orb spider. The Italian scientists said knots could further increase toughness of the material. According to Nicola Pugno, the leading scientist in the team, the graphene enforced procedure could be applied to other animals and plants, which means we could have bionic materials, which would be stronger than synthetic, very soon. Graphene with spider silk could do awesome things in the future, like catching planes falling out of the sky. Sweet.

New self-cleaning paint could lead to stain-free future

This self-cleaning paint could be the answer for any clumsy individual like me. The cool water-resistant paint can clean itself, even when damaged or exposed to oil, and can be scratched with a knife and scuffed with sandpaper, and still look freshly painted. It’s been developed by British and Chinese researchers, and the paint can be applied to clothes, paper, glass and steel. Adhesives were added to the paint to keep it super water repellent and self-cleaning. It could mean tough, self-cleaning surfaces will be available to the public. This would be great for me, seeing as I ruin pretty much everything I own.

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Gates Foundation funds disease surveillance data network

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced that it will be giving $75m to a network of disease surveillance sites in Africa and Asia to gather better data about childhood mortality. The network wants to help collect better data, faster, about how, where and why children are becoming sick and dying in order to better prepare for any future potential epidemic. This data is expected to give the global heath community a clearer insight in to what the optimum intervention may be. This is an excellent example of philanthropy in action for the betterment of people in dire need of such help.

QWERTY soft keyboard miniaturised for wearable devices

In a development that might pique Bill Gates’ techno curiosity, the age of wearable technology took another modest step forward with this announcement by Spanish and German researchers, who have developed two tiny QWERTY soft keyboard prototypes that enable users to manually input text on wearable devices. Trying to write a comprehensible text to a friend on a smartwatch using a QWERTY keyboard smaller than a two pence piece sounds like an exercise in maddening frustration to me, but this is the age we live in.

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Russia’s ‘masterpiece’ tank breaks down in parade rehearsal

I am slightly concerned by a somewhat triumphant tone of the Western media, gloating over a seemingly minor technical problem with the new Russian Armata T-14 tank. Such comments reminded me of the Pravda newspaper and other Soviet periodicals that would routinely savour any minuscule problem with Western (mostly American) defence and space initiatives. Yes, Armata T-14, manufactured by Uralvagonzavod Research and Production Corporation, did come to a halt during the annual Victory Day parade rehearsal. Yes, the new Russian tank does cost a fortune. And, yes, the country is still in the throes of an economic crisis, triggered by Western sanctions – a reaction to the continuing war in Eastern Ukraine (albeit Putin’s Russia seems to be coming out of it relatively unscathed). But let’s not forget that Armata T-14 is not just an impressive, highly innovative and hugely destructive military vehicle, equipped with an unmanned turret and a 125mm smooth bore cannon, capable of firing shells and guided missiles (some commentators believe that the new machine’s reinforced chamber and computer technology are superior to the tanks currently in service and that this tank is potentially capable of becoming the first robotic, unmanned military vehicle), but – first and foremost – a weapon of aggression. The fact that Armata T-14 is the first offensive tank, produced in Russia and the Soviet Union in the last 40 years in an obvious show of military strength in NATO’s face, should cause concern, and dismissing it on the basis of a small technical hitch during the parade rehearsal is not just unwise, but also dangerous.

Alex Kalinaukas  Alex Kalinauckas, assistant features editor
Facebook ‘I’m a voter’ button makes UK election debut

Call me a cynic (and believe me you’d be right to do so), but I don’t see how getting a few people to press a button that advertises they’ve exercised the democratic rights is going to get people out voting as social media, and Facebook in particular, is little more than a tool for people to show off. Used correctly, social media can be a great way to engage with a wide audience and I hope this works, I really do, but surely it would have been better to have been urging people to make their choice throughout the campaign and, crucially, before the voter registration closed a few weeks ago.

Parents confused by children’s use of internet slang

What I’m about to write will (quite rightly) lead to me being classed as an irrationally angry pedant, but I don’t care. Internet slang, particularly employed away from the internet, winds me up. I’m not a parent – I’m not even 24 years old – but I couldn’t tell you what “fleek” or “bae” means (actually I do know the latter after it was brought to my attention during a recent trip to the pub). “ICYMI” and “NSFW” both had to be googled – although “TBT” is pretty self-explanatory. Used on the internet, mainly in places I don’t have to see them, these terms are fine. But in text messages – come on people, it’s not 2001 any more, we don’t pay by the number of characters – or even worse, when using these terms whilst speaking out loud needs to be banned urgently for sake of the English language and my own sanity.

E&T editor @DickonRoss to present #wearabletechnology and #IoT sessions at #DigitalShoreditch

May 6, 2015

Join E&T editor-in-chief Dickon Ross at Digital Shoreditch in London next week.

E&T magazine goes live next week in London, when Dickon hosts two sessions at this year’s Digital Shoreditch Festival. The first is about wearable technology on Monday, with the second about the Internet of Things on Wednesday.

Dickon will be presenting the wearables session together with a former editor of Esquire magazine, discussing whether wearables need to be better designed to reach their potential with consumers or whether functionality is enough to trump style. How can engineers work with fashion designers to produce cool, irresistible products?

In the IoT session I’ll be talking to a panel of major industry players including ARM, IBM and National Instruments about their strategies for the IoT and taking questions from the audience of creative and innovative start-ups.

As it happens, the latest E&T magazine is our ‘Hype or happening?’ issue, including our exclusive wearable technology photo shoot. Bone up now and be ready with questions for the Digital Shoreditch sessions.

Digital Shoreditch 2015

Digital Shoreditch 2015

E&T news weekly #48 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

May 1, 2015

Friday May 1 2015

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Power-hungry New York shamed; Tokyo leads in sustainability

Fascinating analysis of the key differences in cities of comparable size and how each one tackles the same basic infrastructure issues, with varying degrees of ecological success. There’s really no baseline difference between the megacitiy metropolises, no major geographical or cultural issues. Success or failure is by and large simply down to sensible, selfless town planning, tackling the key issues with a long-term vision and laying down policies intended to span decades, not just one parliament term. Your principal takeaway from this story: Tokyo rules.

Combat vehicle equipped with F1 tech breaks speed record

This looks quite the larf: a 35-tonne Combat Vehicle 90 (CV90) equipped with an active-damping system derived from same the system used in Formula One racing cars and thus now capable of powering across battle terrain up to 40 per cent faster than its predecessor. Psychological gains often prove crucial in the heat of battle and it seems certain that the enemy seeing this thing tearing towards them at previously unimaginable speeds would put the wind up them something chronic.

Dickon Ross  Dickon Ross, editor in chief
‘Safest bike ever’ designed by UK inventor

Son of Sir Clive Sinclair set about making a safer bicycle and he produced this recliner which looks like a C5 for the 21st century. As a city cyclist, I would be nervous about being strapped into a seat that low and near the ground.

Engineering jobs growth fastest since recession

Engineer salaries have now recovered to levels before the economic crash as the engineering job market is growing again but IT salaries still have some way to go.

Researchers propose body WiFi for the wearable technology age

How wearables could network together in the future to make a wireless network around the human body dubbed Body Fi or Wi-Bo. It needs a hub somewhere on the body, says Generator Research.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
EmoShape’s emotion engine to give gadgets personality

With the latest in the long-running Terminator movie franchise out this summer, it’s tempting to think that humans labouring under a robot tyranny in the not too distant future have found a less arduous alternative to sending a succession of people back in time to prevent the machines taking over. EmoShape’s EPU, or Emotional Processing Unit, is incorporated in hardware and is claimed to learn how you’re feeling from how you respond to the media content it picks to play for you. Could be brilliant, but if it doesn’t work would be one of the most annoying bits of tech to hit the home and prompt mass trashing of hardware before it has a chance to get the upper hand.

Automated eCall system to be mandatory in vehicles by 2018

European influence on national legislation has been a big issue in the run up to next week’s general election. Whatever you think – and however it influences your vote – regulations that require all new cars and vans to be equipped with a device that automatically alerts emergency services in the event of an accident sounds like it can only be a good thing. The EU estimates it could reduce fatalities by up to 10 per cent, a significant figure when you remember that just over 25,000 people were killed in car crashes across Europe last year.

Tereza Pultarova  Tereza Pultarova, news reporter
Power-hungry New York shamed; Tokyo leads in sustainability

Megacities around the world house about 6.7 per cent of the global population, yet they consume a disproportionate 9.3 per cent of global electricity and produce 12.6 per cent of global waste. It is at least encouraging to see that if they try, some megacities can be much less power hungry than others. According to a new study by Toronto University researchers, the sustainability Oscar goes to Tokyo, which with a population about one third larger than New York consumes an equivalent of one oil supertanker less every day and a half than the American megapolis.

Audi’s water-based green diesel provides alternative to electromobility

Switching to electromobiles or fuel-cell powered cars may be costly. But what if you could go green with your existing combustion engine vehicle? German premium car-maker Audi says you could – with its new green diesel made from water, carbon dioxide, renewable energy and nothing else.

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Automated eCall system to be mandatory in vehicles by 2018

Anyone following the eCall saga will know that it’s an EU system for automatically alerting emergency services when a car is involved in an accident severe enough to activate the airbags. Progress has been distinctly slow (I was reporting on the topic back in 2009), but the European Parliament’s latest vote completes the legislative process, so car and van manufacturers now have three years to incorporate emergency call devices into their new models. Member states have a shorter deadline for implementing the means to process eCalls, which will carry a defined set of data to help emergency services find the vehicle quickly even if the driver is unconscious.

Exploding Li-ion batteries analysed to identify cause

This is a fascinating piece of collaborative research with important commercial implications. Overheating has been a known problem with lithium-ion batteries for many years, sometimes leading to fires and even explosions, though the risks can be mitigated through careful physical design and sophisticated power management. Now scientists have used advanced imaging technologies to capture just what’s happening and how damage spreads within and around the battery at very high temperatures. That should be valuable information for anyone trying to develop safer designs in future.

Laura Onita  Laura Onita, news reporter
New techniques to advance ‘4D printing’

We’ve seen and heard a lot in the past couple of years about 3D printing and the way it could revolutionise our lives – printing new blood vessels, drugs etc. But is it too soon to talk about 4D printing, and what is in fact 4D printing? Australian researchers don’t think so and say that although there are no 4D printers, 4D printing is a process. “We use 3D printers to print 3D objects, which then transform into a different shape; very similar to what a child’s Transformer toy does,” they said. And that’s how they’ve started to develop techniques for 4D printing after having devised an autonomous valve.

Researchers propose body Wi-Fi for the wearable technology age

When Wi-Fi was first introduced on a large-scale more than a decade ago it triggered a mania unseen since the days of the internet boom, and maybe, just maybe, Body Fi will do that too. Wearables are arguably the next big thing – alongside IoT, 5G etc. – so a researcher suggested that a completely new wireless standard might be needed to provide connectivity in the age of wearables. Instead of connecting each of these devices separately to a wireless network, he proposed to connect them to a single controlling device that could act as an interface for the rest of the body network, most probably our smartphones.

Alex Kalinaukas  Alex Kalinauckas, assistant features editor
Formula One device to help save energy in supermarkets

I must admit, as an avid Formula 1 fan, to being rather amused when the press release regarding this story landed in my inbox – and I was smiling even more when it mentioned “cold aisle syndrome”. But it’s good to see that Williams Advanced Engineering is finding ways to use their expertise and resources to generate income – something that’s very difficult to do in the current state of F1 – and it helps us stay a little warmer as we shop, that’s even better.

‘Safest bike ever’ designed by UK inventor

The headline to this story certainly pulled me in and I applaud the efforts of Crispin Sinclair to invent a safer alternative for cyclists. However, there are several reasons why I can’t see this taking off – at least not on a wide scale. Firstly, it’s not exactly good looking – a problem that will be very hard to overcome in the often po-faced society many of my fellow cyclists seem to exist in. Secondly, despite the accompanying video demonstration, I’m not sure how useful this safety cell will be in the event of a high-speed collision with a HGV. And finally, I feel that efforts need to be more focused on improving standards of all road users, better infrastructure in big cities and a calming of the war that seems to exist in the minds of many drivers and cyclists alike.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Apple Watch sensors trigger ‘tattoogate’ on inked wrists

Well, this is unfortunate. Users of the Apple Watch have started to complain because the device gets confused if the owner is heavily tattooed on the wrist. Using the hashtag #tattoogate, people have said that some functions don’t work properly with tattooed skin. Some of the issues include failures of the locking system and heart-rate readings, which are reported to differ on areas of non-tattooed and tattooed skin. Some people were also repeatedly asked for the passcode if they had decorated wrists. Weird. The website says that tattoos can block light from the sensor, making it harder to get reliable readings. Apparently, only darker tattoos are the issue here. Now that modern society tends to embrace tattoos rather than see them as a taboo, Apple had better start sorting this out; otherwise they’re probably going to lose a lot of custom.

Objects vanish with real-life invisibility cloak

An invisibility cloak exists. The magic of Harry Potter has come alive. Kind of. In Germany, researchers have come up with a portable invisibility cloak that makes small objects disappear. They’ve engineered systems to bend light around a tiny object, therefore it can’t be detected, and it won’t have a shadow. Awesome. They hope to take it to classrooms and use it for demonstrations. As it is portable, it’s easy to move around. I wish they had these sorts of things when I was a kid. It would have been the best lesson ever.

Aasha Bodhani  Aasha Bodhani, industry features editor
Apple Watch sensors trigger ‘tattoogate’ on inked wrists

Tattooed wrists? The Apple Watch may not be the right time piece for you. According to social media, hashtag #tattoogate has been trending as users have complained particular features on the Watch do not work when worn on a tattooed wrist. Though Apple has declined to comment, its support page has said tattoos can interfere with the heart rate monitor, but has failed to discuss any other issues.

Bullets that never miss tested by DARPA

The Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance programme has designed self-steering bullets, which now have the intelligence to never miss a target. Using a traditional sniper gun, the bullet uses optical guidance to track the target, even if the target is moving or at a distance. The aim of these smart bullets is to help military snipers operate better in difficult conditions, such as high winds and dusty terrain.

Katia Moskvitch  Katia Moskvitch, technology editor
Solar fuel economy ‘imminent’, says energy expert

We may not yet have hydrogen-powered cars in our garages – but according to solar fuels experts, using sunlight to give us energy is the future. Fossil fuels deposits are finite and running out fast, so we’ll have to turn to alternative energy sources – and at a solar fuels conference currently underway in Uppsala, Sweden, the message is clear: sunlight should be the answer. Daniel Nocera, professor of energy at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the inventor of the ‘artificial leaf,’ says that we already have the technology to produce solar fuels. “If the society was willing to use hydrogen as a fuel, we’re already there. We could start building an energy infrastructure based on hydrogen today,” he said at the First International Solar Fuels conference earlier this week. It’s “the future of the next five to ten years”.

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Apple Watch sensors trigger ‘tattoogate’ on inked wrists

I heard this news on the BBC TV while running on a treadmill in a gym early this morning and rejoiced at the fact that I don’t have any tattoos on my wrists, or anywhere else on my body, for that matter. Mind you, I don’t have a smartwatch either. But I do use a simple heart-rate monitor while running. Would that basic device be affected by tattoos? Who knows… But as the news story in question was sounding in my headphones, I couldn’t help noticing that my heart-rate monitor started malfunctioning. Can it be that some wearable devices are affected by certain news items? Will investigate during my next gym session!

Objects vanish with real-life invisibility cloak

Did you like my invisibility news pick? What? You can’t see anything? It is probably because I have tried to apply the above-described technology to it. On a more serious note, we have been covering this issue in E&T – in a number of perfectly visible and thoroughly readable news stories and features – for a number of years, including this article on invisibility technologies. As the German scientists behind the new invisibility technology assert, “no magic spells” whatsoever.


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